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A Petition to Holmdel BOE for Retaining Math Enrichment Program

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Dear Members of the Holmdel Board of Education, 

We, the undersigned parents of Holmdel school district, would first like to thank you for taking the time to seriously consider this petition.

With the best interest of our school and children in mind, we have serious concerns about the recent decision to eliminate the 5th grade math enrichment program. We are disappointed that the school district made such an important decision like this without communicating to or seeking inputs from the parents in the community in advance. Parents were informed that the decision was final on the information meetings held on 10/13/17 and 10/16/17, despite mounting questions on the rationale and the demand for more in-depth and comprehensive studies supporting this decision from the audience. Parents were disappointed with the administrators' inconsistent, cherry-picked responses and explanations. This has left us with more questions than answers. 

The justifications given by school officials for this change are listed as follows, with our counter-arguments embedded inline:

  1. On October 13, 2017 school official informed the parents that de-leveling 5th grade math was unanimously supported by 5th grade teachers. During the presentation on 10/16/17, school official stated that the idea of de-leveling 5th grade math was actually suggested by several 4th grade teachers.

    We, the parents, are very confused of the real reasons for the change and are concerned of what and how the 4th and 5th grade math teachers were represented with the situation.  We suggest BOE members conduct surveys or interviews with the entire body of the 4th and 5th grade teacher, and best with the 6th grade teachers as well, to understand their collective positions, concerns, and their professional suggestions for solutions.
  2. Changes to the 5th grade math curriculum become necessary due to the disappointing PARCC performance in 5th grade math in the past two years.

    We gathered and analyzed the PARCC data, which resulted in a completely opposite conclusion!  According to our analysis, Holmdel school district’s 4th grade math, which had no enrichment program, performed just as badly as the 5th grade’s if not worse in certain areas. In contrast, the 6th grade math which did have an enrichment program produced scores that were far better. Contrary to the school administrator’s conclusion to eliminate the 5th grade math enrichment program, the data not only supports keeping the 5th grade enrichment math, but also suggests the potential increased benefit of introducing the enrichment program as early as in the 4th grade!

  3. The main advantage of heterogeneity (in terms of diversity in student proficiency) in the classroom is its increased rigor.

    We believe that homogeneous classrooms will benefit both high achieving students and grade level students. The latter can prosper in an environment where they are not forced to compete with students that are ahead of them, thereby allowing them to gain confidence and alleviate peer pressure. At the same time, teachers can focus their instructions tailored for the appropriate levels of their classrooms for maximal effectiveness. 

  4. Teachers will leverage differentiated teaching techniques to ensure that both the needs of advanced level and grade level students will be catered to.

    Currently differentiation is being practiced in certain 2nd to 4th grades math classes through the use of math contracts. Many advanced students who were under the contracts have reported that often they were given problems to work on their own and left unattended. They sometimes acted as teaching assistants helping the classes but they themselves have received very limited instructions throughout the entire school year. We believe this is due to the time and resource constraints teachers face given the large heterogeneous class sizes. Teachers are unable to allocate equitable amounts of teaching time and attention to all students at different levels when they have more than 25 students in each class. We believe it is only prudent that the district administrators first demonstrate the effectiveness of differentiated teaching to the 2nd to 4th grades before implementing similar strategy to the 5th grade. We also believe that the current setup of honors and grade level classes is by itself true differentiated teaching with the best efficiency given our school district’s resource constraints.

  5. A data point shows that the scores of about 2/3 of enrichment students fall into the range of grade level students, implying insignificant difference in math proficiency levels between the two groups.

    This is a flawed methodology that may lead to skewed conclusions. In the science of statistics, the right way to compare two groups is by computing the mean and standard deviation for each group and then present the significance level for the hypothesis. We would like to ask schools officials to either release the individual score data (with names removed of course) or use any statistics software to conduct a test of significance (t-test in Excel).

  6. Another data point shows that some selected schools in District Factor Group I that have reduced  5th grade math enrichment curriculum have higher scores than Holmdel.

    We contend the comparison between Holmdel and other schools is illogical and engages in statistically insignificant over-extrapolation. Other schools, such as West Windsor, historically have always had higher scores than Holmdel has, with or without an enrichment program in their curriculum. Using an isolated sample without context omits this critical preexisted difference and highlights the need for improved analytical methods employed by school administration and the necessity of communication to the parents in advance. This problematic trend we see common to the placement process is exemplified by the removal of the 5th grade math enrichment program and the change to the honors selection criteria imposed to the community late last school semester. 

The importance of our student's future warrants more than a cursory review of curriculum. We the parents and Holmdel Board of Education share the same goal which is to pursue the most beneficial path for our students. Our petition is not meant to agitate or raise conflict. On the contrary, we cherish, value, and respect our school system so much that we wish to improve it through our joined efforts.

In the attachment you will find a comprehensive and contextualized data analysis of PARCC performances for the same groups of students over several successive years. It suggests that the existence of math enrichment program has improved the overall performance of students in a given grade, which is the opposite of the conclusion reached by the school officials.

The 5th grade enrichment math program has been a tradition of Holmdel school for decades. Decisions as important as removing the program should not been taken lightly. It would have ramifications throughout the rest of each student’s educational career, and potentially impact them life-long. We respectfully request Holmdel Board of Education to:

  1. Interview 4th, 5th and preferably 6th grade teachers by board members together with school administrators to truly understand their concerns and their views. Present the findings to the public at a BOE meeting.
  2. Review and oversee the decision-making process to ensure that conclusions were reached based on substantiated evidence as well as statistically significant and unbiased data. Revise decisions if necessary.

Finally, in the past year, many Holmdel parents voiced their concerns over the new honors placement process. We support this movement of seeking better transparency in decision making process, and we do not think de-leveling the 5th grade curriculum has been a transparent process.  We believe that Holmdel parents, BOE, School administrators, and teachers must work together to find the best solution for our kids going forward.


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